Conquering the Alcatraz Challenge, the start of Tricalifornia’s “Summer in the City.”
Thursday, June 3, 2010
Things are thrashing and splashing in the Sunday morning waters just off Alcatraz. Scores of people have just pitched themselves into the ocean, 1.5 miles from the San Francisco shore, and waves of three keep leaping in. The 7:30am sea greets them. It isn’t warm.
The chaotic and chilling elements make it essentially impossible to stay put. So does a tidbit from the Monterey Peninsula people who organize this debut “Alcatraz Challenge.”
“On race day, there will be an extremely strong current carrying you west,” the Tricalifornia website reads. “Strong means that if you jumped off the ferry and did nothing but float you would be swept 3 miles west to the Golden Gate Bridge within an hour.”
But silver-haired Alcatraz Challenge vet Sue Free – who swam the course Saturday to investigate conditions – offers contradictory counsel.
“The most important thing,” she says, “is to stop and look around.”
~ ~ ~
Tricalifornia, Inc. keeps its offices in a backyard studio behind director Terry Davis’ house in Pacific Grove, but this summer it’ll make the biggest splash in San Francisco.
Davis entered the tri-world while working with the Monterey County Parks at Lake San Antonio in the early ’80s, when someone suggested expanding the fun run part of a bluegrass music festival.
“A friend said, ‘Let’s do a tri-ath-a-lon,’” Davis says. “I said, ‘That sounds great. What is it?’”
Later, as he discovered how much more he liked manning the blooming Wildflower Triathlon segment of his job rather than bureaucracy that defined the rest of it, Davis quit to concentrate on triathlons completely. After managing the Wildflower for a few years (as he still does), he founded Tricalifornia in 1995 and launched the Triathlon at Pacific Grove and Scott Tinley’s Adventures near San Luis Obispo the same year.
The most striking races of their biggest summer season – one Tricalifornia’s terming “Summer in the City” as they take over still more races in the Bay Area – will build upon the natural intrigue of the Alcatraz swim (see box, this page): An “aquathlon” adds a 7-mile run up the Golden Gate (and back) in July and an Alcatraz triathlon tacks on an additional 25.7-mile bike ride in August. As its backyard office remains modest, Tricalifornia’s calendar is growing quickly as the still-young sport – it was introduced as an Olympic event in 2000 – continues to climb in popularity.
“No way in the world did I think triathlons [would grow like this],” Davis says. “It’s become a lifestyle choice.”
~ ~ ~
The spiky San Francisco cityscape glitters in silver to the east. Unwavering Alcatraz looms from the north, its predawn ghoulishness softening with the morning light. The narrow fairy-book housefronts and ice cream colors of the Marina district rise ahead. The poised Golden Gate, even grander from below, watches from the west.
Sue Free was right. After landing in the water and swimming clear of the entering athletes, it’s best to pause. In every direction the views are as breathtaking as the 6-foot drop to the water.
Several hip to the water-born beauty have strapped waterproof cameras to their wetsuits. “It’s way, way cool,” Free says. “Most people don’t get to enjoy the city from that angle.”
The majority of the athletes, though, look at just one thing besides the green water beyond their goggles: a towering beacon directors like Davis ask swimmers to use as a compass against the current, the 977-foot-tall Koit radio antenna well east of the beach where the race ends at Chrissy Field.
~ ~ ~
In 1937, Theodore Cole and Ralph Roe filed their way through iron bars in the prison’s model industries building. One December day, they slipped down to the water’s edge and disappeared.
“This attempt occurred during a bad storm and the Bay’s currents were especially fast and strong – most people believe Roe and Cole were swept out to sea. Officially, they are listed missing and presumed dead,” read archives assembled by Alcatrazhistory.com, a site run by Ocean View Publishing of Carmel. “Officially, no one ever succeeded in escaping from Alcatraz, although to this day there are five prisoners listed as ‘missing and presumed drowned.’”
The smiles of relief and satisfaction on the sand at Chrissy Field may not be “official,” but they represent success for more than 200 swimmers who kept crawling through swell and fatigue to reach the other side, several without wetsuits. Perfect conditions helped many complete the crossing in surprisingly little time: Winner Brad Oglevee, 25, needed barely a half hour. Unofficial results, however, report that he didn’t stop to look around.
For more information,visit www.tricalifornia.com
SUMMER HEATS | A glance at the remaining Tricalifornia season.
July 10-11 • San Francisco Triathlon - Treasure Island • Olympic distance, sprint distance, 5K, 10K
July 18 • Alcatraz Challenge Aquathlon • Swim-run
Aug. 29 • San Francisco Triathlon – Alcatraz • International distance
Sept. 10-12 • Triathlon at Pacific Grove • Olympic, sprint, 5K, 10K
Oct. 1-3 • Scott Tinley’s Adventures (Lake Lopez Park near San Luis Obispo) • On-road long course, on-road international, on-road sprint, off-road extreme, off-road sprint